Tobacco Advertising

A particularly bad sort of sign cluttering our county is all the tobacco ads at most every gas station and convenience store. Royal Farms is, without a doubt, the worst.

Back in 1998, as a result of the Master Settlement Agreement between the five largest tobacco companies (including Marlboro as pictured on the left) and a bunch of states (including Maryland), we got rid of billboards advertising tobacco. But there was an exception for small advertising signs - not more than 14 sq ft each, so the tobacco companies switched their advertising money to paying local retailers to put up small signs. Problem is, Baltimore County has specific regulations and permit requirements for both temporary and permanent commercial signage. Thus, most of the tobacco signs, along with the Coco-Cola and others, are illegal.

This issue was raised in Baltimore County in 1999 and reported in two Baltimore Sun Articles. The first, on January 30, 1999, reported that Arnold Jablon, director of the Department of Permits and Development Management (which included Code Enforcement) acknowledged that "most cigarette and other temporary signs are illegal" but says that "his inspectors are too busy with other matters". In accordance with their normal procedure, action will be taken only in response to specific complaints. The second, on April 23 reported that stores were getting around the intent of the Agreement. In particular, Royal Farms had simply removed the actual brand name of the cigarettes from their billboards along I-83. It also reported that, since the Jan 30 Sun article, Baltimore County officials had done nothing.

Here we are nearly 20 years later and nothing has been done, not because of lack of trying. In 2010, I wrote a letter to the head of the Health Department, resulting in me being asked to join the Tobacco Free Baltimore County Coalition, a citizen volunteer advisory groups established by State law to assist the Health Department in administering the restitution funds it receives as a result of the "Agreement". During 5 years on that Coalition, the final year as co-chair, I tried to get a program going in which County Code Enforcement, with cooperative efforts of volunteers, could attack this problem of illegal signage. Although this seemed to be right in line with the Coalition's and the County's stated goal of reducing teen-age smoking, I got nowhere with this effort, and eventually resigned from the Coalition out of frustration.

I have now begun filing many complaints about illegal "temporary" signs at Royal Farms, many of which are for tobacco products. See here.

Incidentally, and obviously related, Royal Farms stores in Baltimore County have gotten numerous citations in the past couple years for selling tobacco products to minors. Part of these cases can be seen in the results of the Board of Appeals when Royal Farms tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to challenge these convictions and fines. The Board of Appeals results for 18 citations in 2016 alone can be found here:

June 16, 2016      Sept 27, 2016      Mar 7, 2017      May 16, 2017



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Updated 26 Oct by MAP